Respirator and Dust Mask Safety

Posted by Drew Frye at 05:24PM - Comments: (1)

Adjust the facemask to fit. Include any protective equipment you may wear, including goggles, eyeglasses (shown here with earpieces removed), and hearing protection.

Although falling off a ladder or cutting yourself with a sharp tool are the most common boatyard injuries, damage from the foul air we breathe is more insidious. Marine paints contain solvents that can make you dizzy at best or increase cancer risk at worst. Dust from sanding wood is usually only a nuisance, but sanding bottom paint or grinding fiberglass presents serious health risks. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of industrial experience with contaminated air to draw upon, and by taking appropriate precautions, there is no reason working on the boat can’t be as safe as walking down the street.

Chemical risks can be identified by reviewing the Safety Data Sheet (SDS)—formerly referred to as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)—for the cleaners, paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials you’ll be using. A Google search under the product name and “safety data sheet” should bring up the information you need. Review Section 3 (hazards identification), Section 5 (fire and explosion data), Section 8 (exposure controls/personal protection), and Section 11 (toxicological information). Specifically, Section 8 identifies the appropriate respirator cartridge type, although not the respirator classification, since that depends upon the expected concentration.

It is important to match the respirator cartridge with the chemical AND concentration. Vapors from some household cleaners and solvents can approach hazardous levels below decks. Active ventilation with fans and blowers can help reduce the risk.

Checking Fit

A respirator, vapor mask, or dust mask can’t protect you if it doesn’t fit your face. It’s that simple. Anything that prevents a good seal—whether facial hair or a hollow under the side of your jaw—is unacceptable. In a workplace this fit test will be performed in a very rigid manner by a trained technician. However, for the sailor/occasional boat yard worker, we offer this shortcut procedure that is far better than nothing.

If you are farsighted, you can mount cheap reading glasses inside a full-face mask, such as the Scott AV-300, our top rated face mask.

Adjust the facemask to fit. Include any protective equipment you may wear, including goggles, eyeglasses, and hearing protection. Install organic vapor cartridges if applicable. Make sure any cartridge you use is certified by the relevant safety organization. In the U.S., this is the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Testing Safety Masks for Fit

The following test will work with partial, or with full face masks. Spray a fine mist of perfume into the air, so that it drifts down over your head. For a dust mask or particulate filter, a good dusting of black pepper or a spray of very salty water will also work. Now, grimace or smile broadly while repeating the alphabet for 15 seconds. Tilt your head up and down and rotate side to side while reciting. If you can smell the perfume, you failed the test. If the pepper made you sneeze or you taste pepper, you failed the test. Adjust the straps and start over.

Don’t assume the respirator model your dock mate swears by will fit you properly. Like shoes, it’s not just the size, it’s also the shape. Choose the one that fits you properly, and the pair it with the correct cartridge, as designated by. It will work.

If you have facial hair, full-face respirators can be more tolerant of mustaches than half-face respirators. Sometimes wetting the whiskers down with Vaseline helps. Trimming is the safest option.

Return any mask that does not pass this fit test. Worse than not functioning properly, it gives you false security.

Each time you use a cartridge-type mask, perform an inward leakage test. Remove or block the cartridges with tape, and try to inhale. It should suck to your face, with no leaks, and maintain the vacuum for at least a few seconds. This confirms you are wearing it properly and that it is not damaged. Adjust until it seals.

Clean after every use; if it isn’t clean, you might forego using it—at great risk. Don’t forget to order spare cartridges and parts before you need them.

Comments (1)

Nice overview of respirator view. I am a big proponent of the full face mask because the eye membranes are a vector for chemical absorption. Solvents, cleaners, and volatiles can do damage to the eyes, and reach the bloodstream. Suggest that mask cartridges be dismounted after use for thorough cleaning of the mask, and that those carts be wrapped tightly and thoroughly with Saran-type wrap to prevent saturation of the cartridge during storage. Protect expensive cartridges with N-95 dust wafers to extend their life.

Posted by: Waterman | March 13, 2019 9:20 AM    Report this comment

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